Florida’s southwest coast hit by toxic ‘red tide’

World Today

Florida's southwest coast hit by toxic 'red tide'

A toxic algae bloom is devastating sea life along the southwest coast of Florida, prompting officials to declare a state of emergency. That’s freed up $1.5 million to help sick animals, clean the beaches, and support the tourist industry – also hit by this aggressive “red tide.” CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez reports.

Dead fish, stranded turtles, even a dead whale shark are all likely victims of the red tide. Algae blooms affect the Gulf Coast every year, but this one is particularly menacing – and toxic to wildlife and humans.

“Red tide is the result of what happens when certain organism, photo plankton Karenia Brevis grows in very large numbers or gets aggregated by currents together in large numbers. It produces a toxin and that toxin can kill fish and other marine organisms that can make humans sick and that is what we call the red tide, when we have that event,” Vincent Lovko, staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium said.

The strong smell can make humans nauseous. The toxins can cause respiratory problems. The red tide has antagonized Florida now for ten months and there’s no end in sight.

Thousands of activists took to beaches across the state this week to join hands and draw attention to what they see as an environmental disaster. Their movement is now known in social media as #HandsAlongTheWater.

The toxic tide is also impacting the state’s lucrative tourism industry, costing local businesses millions.

Holmes Beach, a place generally considered a coastal paradise, was deserted. Penny Nichols, a store manager at a bike and kayak rental place, told CGTN that the red tide was bad for business. “It’s been pretty quiet because of the smell and the dead fish,” she said. “I’ve had a few people rent bikes, but not the kayaks and the paddle boards.”

Eric Cairns, manager at Cedar Cove Resort and Cottages in Anna Maria Island, was more optimistic. “A lot of our guests are repeat business, so they understand what’s going on with the algae bloom. What they’re doing is they are taking their reservation, they are not cancelling, they are just postponing it and pushing it into the future,” he said.

Some Floridians blame the government and politicians for lack of adequate environmental regulations – especially related to sugarcane production.

“It’s pretty much common knowledge now that Big Sugar and the way it’s polluted the coast it’s caused this algae blooms. If you take enough fertilizer and push it into the water, plants grow and red tide is a plant,” said Sean Murphy, owner of Beach Bistro.

He was not the only local blaming sugar companies.

While evidence of red tides goes back hundreds of years, scientists say they don’t know exactly why today’s blooms are so excessive. The working theory is that Florida’s temperatures, light levels, currents and chemistry all combine to produce a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions for the algae to thrive.